Almost a third of secondary schoolchildren have admitted to getting drunk at least once over a four-week period, according to a shocking survey that exposes the scale of alcohol misuse in Portsmouth.
And nearly one in 10 youngsters said they had been drunk three or more times in that time.
Statistics compiled by the city council of 12 to 15-year-old students also reveal parents are the most common source of alcohol – with 29 per cent of youngsters admitting they get their booze from mum and dad.
Half of all 1,219 students who responded to the School Substance Misuse Survey 2011 say the main reason for drinking alcohol is ‘it’s normal – everyone does it’.
But it is the schools who are being forced to pick up the pieces as adults fail to take responsibility for being good role models and keeping their supplies of drinks under lock and key.
As The News launches a series of special reports to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Week, Steve Labedz, head of the Portsmouth Collaborative which represents several schools across the city, said he was shocked by the survey results.
‘It is alarming that so many young people feel it’s alright to get drunk,’ he said.
‘Unfortunately there’s a culture here, as I’m sure is the case with a lot of cities, on a Friday night in particular of people who go out intending to get drunk. Adults are doing this and they are supposed to be the role models for youngsters. I do feel the only place you can teach kids the difference between right and wrong is in school.’
Schools are now being encouraged to take up a free scheme run by the council’s Health Improvement and Development Service (HIDS) and NHS Portsmouth which offers talks, workshops, one-to-one sessions with students and the expertise of a special alcohol nurse.
So far this year, just three secondary schools have employed the services of HIDS substance misuse workers.
Mr Labedz is head of Admiral Lord Nelson School in Copnor, where the year 10 and 11 drama group put on a play recently called Wasted which explored the devastating consequences of binge drinking.
The school also works closely with HIDS.
He said: ‘I can’t think of a single case where a student has been intoxicated in school, but the drinking we are aware of tends to be binge drinking in the party scenario that leads to the classic fights or getting involved in inappropriate sexual behaviour. We have to deal with those consequences because they affect a students’ ability to learn. A lot of the alcohol children get hold of comes from their parents, and a lot of it they get from intimidating smaller shop owners or older kids buying it for them.
‘Alcohol is so cheap it’s depressing, and I don’t think a ban on underage drinking is enforceable.
‘We’ve found the strongest way to get the message across is to highlight the horrible situations drinking can get you into – it’s a more powerful deterrent than the basic health message, although that is also very important.
‘There isn’t a kid in the school that would think drink-driving is OK, but that is one very serious potential consequence of being drunk.’
Portsmouth City Council carried out the survey after a similar piece of national research was discontinued last year. But compared with figures from across the country in 2010, Portsmouth fares worse than the average.
Nine per cent of the city’s youth have been drunk three or more times in a month compared with four per cent nationally, and 29 per cent of Portsmouth’s children say their parents gave them alcohol compared with 22 per cent in England.
Alan Knobel, the city’s alcohol strategy co-ordinator, said: ‘The numbers are clearly far too high. But they reflect some of the things we expected – children are more likely to drink if they see their parents do it, and parents are often a young person’s first exposure to or source of alcohol.
‘Parents need to think more about the amount of alcohol they are consuming and whether they are getting drunk around young people. Storing a lot of alcohol because of cheap deals is also a problem, because you won’t notice when some of it goes missing.
‘This is a very serious issue because the risks to young people are enormous – drinking can expose them to crime or violence, it can lead them to undertake drugs, sex and other things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.
‘And that is not forgetting the damage to young people’s brains which evidence shows are still developing.’